Where have all the flowers gone? Stripped from verges everyone.

One of the joys of cycling the lanes of Lancashire is the profusion of flowers and plants in the hedgerows and verges. My cycling is more to explore than to clock up the miles. I explore using ordnance survey maps so I can find new lanes and places of interest. I cycle all year round, so see the countryside in all seasons. I only avoid ice and high winds!!

Each year I cycle over 4000 miles with rides from 20 to 50 and occasionally more miles. Thus I tend to go down the same lanes many times a year. Speed is not my aim and I am always looking at the flora and fauna and stop if there is anything of interest. I always see and note the changing seasons. Although my botanical skills are not great, I note where particular flowers blossom and when. Often I chooose a route to see what flower I expect to see has flowered.

A few weeks ago I tootled past this fantastic array of forget-me-nots. It was downhill but I kept my brakes on so I could take it all in. 8 mph was better than 18mph!

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There are many other examples and best savoured at a slow pace. Granted I couldn’t do more than 5-6 mph going up Beacon Fell.

Look at the variety Alkanet, Welsh Poppy, Ramsons, Red Campion, Queen Annes Lace, and finally some hybridizing Red and white campions.

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It is difficult not to think of Darwin’s beautiful conclusion to The Origin of Species seeing these displays.

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

It is all absolutely wonderful until you cycle after someone (who knows who?) has been along the lane with a mowing machine and shredded up to six foot or more of the often flower-rich verges. As I cycled along this lane I did not think of Darwin but wondered who could have such a lack of concern or knowledge of the countryside. Today, a fortnight after cycling this, I was there again and it is still a mess.

 

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This is not so much mowing as mangling. Hardly good management.

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Darwin needs bringing up to date;

It is awful to contemplate a mangled bank, clothed with so few  plants, which have been mangled by a mower, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects unable to find their food, and no hedge garlic for the orange tip butterfly to lay its eggs. And to hell with the orchids.

This is the same lane as above. Campions nestle against the hedge, but you can see the mangled ones in front .

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I cannot understand why such a wide strip needs mowing. In fact here, they failed to mow adjacent to the road but just carved at least a three foot strip mangling the flora.

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Then cycling near Inskip I found six foot of verges had been mowed to destruction as you can see in the three photos below..

Why do this? There is no reason for visibility. as for tidiness only a stroip about 2ft wide is needed.

Further it is very rough mowing done with no concern for precision or tidiness and even less for the flora, however common it may be. Of course, there are those who will see those plants as “weeds”, thus needing removal as they have no purpose

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A little further on was a pole in the middle of the verge preventing  the mower from reaching much of the verge. This mean some flowers were left and here some Queen Annes Lace and some vetch. This is what the stretch of road in the previous photos would have looked like.P1030444

A mile or so along the lane the verges were mown down to the soil ripping up ramsons and Campions.

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Isn’t this so beautiful? I can’t imagine Darwin finding it interesting to contemplate.

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Elsewhere hedge garlic, the home to orange tip caterpillars  is often shreddedand cut back, thus assisting in the decline of butterflies.

I often cycle along the lane west of Cartford Bridge, which overlooks some of the lower reaches of the River Wyre. Recently as I went down this stretch I looked for the interesting hybrids between Red and White Campions I had stopped and photographed a week before.

They were no more – sacrificed to the great god the mower. I was furious.

 

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Here are the campions I’d photographed on my previous ride.

Now I could wax lyrical on them! The most obvious sign are pink flowers in contrast to the pure white one and very deep pink or red ones. I won’t go into the shape of the leaves and other aspects or how you can tell between boy and girl plants! I am not very good on the sex life of Campions.

I was pleased to find this site as occurences of hybrid campions are not that common in this part of Lancashire, and this seems to be an outlier. (But a competent botanist may correct me.)

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A few days after this cycling near Stalmine I found this heavy handed mowing removing a good foot of growth.

Some would argue that this was done for drainage reasons. If so, it should have been done at least a month earlier or last autumn.  By now plants like meadowsweet or purple loosestrife should be a foot high. In fact, the ditch by the end of Union Lane was cut back several months ago and now has meadwosweet and purple loosestrife thriving.

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Carrying on up the lane I came to turn-off to Stalmine and found the phantom mower had been hard at it.

All that was needed was a yard strip adjacent to the road, rather than removing everything right back to the hedge.

That is all that is needed for visibility for dangerous road-users, unless they were Borrowers.

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Last year cycling above Claughton I so pleased to find a hundred yard log stand of ragged Robin in flower. Here it is today> If you look carefully you will see ONE Ragged Robin flower.

As you see a FOUR foot edge was mowed, which can have no justification for visiblity or tidiness.

This is only one of two locations in Lancashire that I’ve found roadside Ragged Robins. The other was a lone flower in a bank at 240  metres three miles away.

 

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These are just some of the photos I started to take in April as I realised what was happening. These go up to 20th May.

Obviously as I cycle at a sedate rate of 10- 15 mph I have time to notice things, you wouldn’t if you were trying to better your time on Strava or driving, but this is why I cycle the way I do.

I like to see what is there; flora, fauna, buildings, boundary stones and anything of interest. As well as flora I’ve seen Great White Egrets, Purple Herons, Owls, Hares , Rabbits, Stoats, various butterflies etc. In February  cycling towards Eagland Hill I saw a Kestrel hovering , two buzzards being mugged by crows and then the temporary resident the Purple Heron. I have been hit by a small bird and last year a buzzard missed me by inches!!

Come a month or two I shall be looking out for knapweed, purple loosestrife and other flowers.

My worry is that this kind of mowing will remove not only the wild flowers but also insects and birds.

That is why it needs to stop and be properly managed.

About myself, I am more of a person interested in wildlife, both flora and fauna, rather than having any special skills, so this blog is a protest against the wholesale cutting down of verges while in flower.  I accept they need cuttting but that should be done taking flowering into consideration. Here is Plantlife on the mowing of verges. Very wise;

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

All Councils – Parish, county and district/borough need a coherent strategy on the management of verges. They also need to take advice from a competent ecologist. It is not something to be left to someone with a mowing machine, who may think that weeds need to be cut to the ground.

I have lodged a complaint with my local councillors and have had a positive response.

In contrast to this Wales is different as this BBC article shows

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52708577

With a good example

View image on Twitter

And a bad one

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Finally, in contrast to my amateurish complaints, here is some informed comment.

  1. A recent conference on the management of verges

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/some-notes-from-the-road-verge-conference-in-suffolk/

2. An old blog from a botanist dealing with these problems, giving links to how various councils in England are managing verges.

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/rural-road-verge-links/

3. The policy of Dorset County Council.

https://news.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/2019/06/17/our-roadside-verges-a-fine-balance-to-strike/

Each of these will give a professional amplification of my concerns.

I will leave you with this image. It is better for bees, insects, birds and humans

Verge flowers

 

 

 

 

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